Supporting each other

What are we supposed to do now?

In Short

As we enter our fourth school year marked by COVID, with Jewish educators across all fields facing major fatigue, what can we do to support them?

It’s August of 2022. Camp educators are wrapping up a summer filled with COVID-19 tracing and staffing shortages. Hillel educators are trying to prepare for another year with college students who have missed the crucial opportunities to grow and stretch their wings that high school generally provides. Religious school educators are trying to find the appropriate balance between the content they want students to learn and the social and emotional support that students desperately need. Day school and early childhood educators are trying to help children who have missed crucial building blocks develop their social and motor skills. Organizational educators are trying to figure out the best way to support all of these other kinds of educators, through learning opportunities and professional development and perhaps most importantly, just being a space to listen and commiserate.  

And, we are entering the fourth school year in a row that will be marked by an unrelenting amount of COVID-related testing, research, discussions and of course, COVID itself. Much has been written about how depleted teachers and educators are, from the mental bandwidth it takes to keep assessing new situations and adjusting programming to running programs with 60-75% of the staff we actually need. But each time I read one of these articles I find myself shrugging my shoulders and thinking, “OK, well what are we supposed to do about it?”

In part, what we are supposed to do, is to simply continue doing what we have always done. 

We will continue to support our participants emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  We will continue to pivot (which we did even before it was trendy and then overused and now finally, triggering), constantly modifying to align with the needs of those in our programs.  We will continue to go above and beyond to transmit our love of Judaism to the next generation. Our roles have always demanded resiliency, creativity, compassion and an indefatigable level of energy and so too do they demand these things now. 

But to be clear, just because we are well equipped doesn’t mean that things aren’t hard, because they are still extraordinarily hard. And so the other thing we can do about it, is to remind others what we are still experiencing so they can better support us.  

For our non-educator colleagues, please know that we are still making dozens of COVID-related decisions each week based on ever-changing guidance and requirements, we the ones “held responsible” for in-program transmission and we are the ones who are getting calls at 9 o’clock in the evening about an exposure. You can support us by giving us the space to continue to be emotionally and physically depleted from both decision fatigue and the boundaryless work that others have been able to pull back from.  

For our friends and families, please know that after talking through scenarios, consoling families, filling in because another teacher was out (or we couldn’t find one to begin with), we may not have the same ability or desire to be social outside of work (with the acknowledgement that having young children makes this much more difficult). You can support us by giving us the space to say no to things, without feeling disappointed. 

And for ourselves, please remember that despite the fact that we were told that what would be a marathon has now been roughly 27 marathons, we will find a place where COVID does not consume the vast majority of our professional lives. When? Who knows! But it will happen and we are going to need every one of us to still be doing this valuable and meaningful work when that time comes. We can support each other by being a space to vent, telling humorous (or humorous with some distance) stories and sharing resources generously.  

While we certainly never would have asked for the situation we find ourselves in, like Esther perhaps we have attained our position for just such a crisis, honing our tried and true skills to best serve us in this current time. And yet, even Esther needed a Mordechai in her corner, supporting her when things were tough and reminding her of her worth and strengths. 

Rabbi Carrie Vogel is a rabbi and Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience at Kehillat Israel in Los Angeles, serving families in preschool through 12th grade. She has written on a number of topics pertaining to Judaism and family life, including adoption, infertility, intentional curriculum design and nontraditional families. She also serves as the chair of the Ethics Task Force for the Association of Reform Jewish Educators.